What is Content?
by Scottie Claiborne
Browse any webmaster forum or read web tutorials and you will find that nearly all the
experts these days recommend that you have lots of good content on your site. Sounds like
good advice, doesn't it? But what does it mean?
Simply put, content is the stuff on your site. Good content is useful information or
tools that your visitors will find helpful. It means different things to different
businesses and the bottom line is that what constitutes "good content" depends
on the goal of your site.
Below, I've attempted to categorize the different types of content:
Core Site Pages
These are the heart pages of your site, the pages that are the core of why you built a
site in the first place. They explain your mission or goals, who you are, and detail the
products/services/information available through your site. The best place to start with
"good content" is making sure these pages are as complete as possible and answer
all of a user's potential questions.
Typical pages that visitors expect to find on a site are:
Shipping Info/Delivery Area/Locations Served
If you aren't confident in your writing skills, consider hiring a professional
copywriter to write or rewrite your pages. A good copywriter can tailor the style and the
voice to appeal to your customers. It can make a difference between just getting traffic
and getting traffic that converts into sales.
Make your core site pages a priority and ensure that they are easy-to-read, complete,
and informative before looking at adding other content.
Complementary pages enhance and expand on your core site pages. These are the
information pages that can really make a difference and help set you apart from your
For product sites, you might offer detailed product reviews, extensive
"how-to" pages for product usage, special print-friendly detail pages, creative
ideas for other uses, customer feedback and testimonials, or help pages that go over and
above the standard.
For service sites, the complementary pages might deal with how you do what you do, your
qualifications, common myths and misperceptions about the service, or do-it-yourself tips
for situations where a professional is not needed.
For affiliate or advertising sites, complementary pages are the key element that will
set your site apart from the competition. What will attract people to your site instead of
the others? Is it a community, more detailed information, news or freebies?
Complementary pages can offer additional information about your company such as how
long you've been in business, details of the clients you handle, industry recognition and
awards, or even statements of your total commitment to customer service. These pages
aren't critical to the operation of your site like the Core Site Pages are, but they help
differentiate your site from others in the field and give visitors a reason to choose to
do business with you.
People love the real person touch- if you don't believe that, watch a little
"reality TV"! People just like to learn about other people. How can you relate
that "real people" fascination to your website?
How do people USE what you sell? How do your services improve people's lives? A travel
service isn't selling a hotel, it's selling fun in the sun or amenities that make your
time away from home easier. Accounting software isn't just about the numbers; it's about
getting tasks done faster and more accurately with more detail. A sporting goods site
isn't just selling fishing gear; it's selling relaxation. When you think about the
benefits, about WHY people want what you sell, it's a lot easier to brainstorm creative
A large plastics manufacturer created a section in their site where people could send
in amazing stories about how their trashcans had survived falling trees and hurricaines. A
baby product site set up a photo gallery where customers could send in their cutest
pictures of their baby using the company's products. A men's tie manufacturer invited
customers to send in a picture of their ugliest tie along with a few sentences about it-
and featured an ugly tie next to each wonderful new tie!
In all the examples above, the "human interest" content reinforces the brand-
strong, durable trashcans, products babies love, ties that look great- while adding a
little emotion and interest. By focusing on the people and using the product as a
backdrop, you subtly reinforce the credibility of your brand.
Establish credibility and authority by including information that spans your industry.
Many webmaster experts will encourage you to write articles about your industry- this is a
great idea. Try not to simply parrot back what you've heard and read from others, but add
your own opinion to the article. Yes, people are interested in your point of view!
Articles can often be submitted to other information sites in your industry, which is a
great way to get incoming links to your site.
Other author's industry articles are a great and fast way to build content on your
site. If you aren't much of a writer or feel you have nothing to add to the information
already published, collect the best articles from your industry and (with permission)
reprint them on your site or link to them. While they are not unique content, they can add
value to your site if you select them carefully. Don't reprint anything and everything
available- be selective and only reprint content that you agree with and is helpful to
your visitors. You want people to trust in the information that you are recommending they
News feeds related to your industry can be a good idea too. RSS is a way to syndicate
your articles for others to pick up and a way for you to integrate headlines from other
sites on your own pages. Watch for an article on RSS feeds in a future newsletter.
Both search engines and customers love fresh, updated information. Some people groan at
the thought of having to work so hard at adding new content, but it's not as complicated
as you think!
Weblogs or Blogs
Blogs exploded on the scene about a year ago with services like Moveable Type and
Blogger making it incredibly easy for anyone to publish on the web. A blog is basically a
series of posts that appear by date posted- the oldest ones scroll off to an archive. It's
basically an online journal. Setup is minimal and the interface is easy to learn- it's as
easy composing a word processing document and hitting save
you are a web
Blogs are a hit with people who like to keep an online journal and personal blogs are a
huge part of the blogging community. But blogs aren't just for angst-ridden teens and
conspiracy theorists; they can help your business too!
Blogs can be integrated seamlessly into your site so that they have the same look and
feel. You can use a blog to publish a running event calendar or comment on industry news
developments. A blog can be strictly professional, announcing specials, daily interest
rates, or new product info or it can be casual and create a "personality" for
What can a blog do for your business? Think about what your customers want to know.
Start a newsletter! Ask visitors to sign up for your newsletter (never send unsolicited
e-mails) and set up a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly schedule to deliver your
newsletter. Then stick with it!
I bought some printer ink online from a vendor that offered me the opportunity to sign
up for specials. Every month like clockwork, I get the latest specials in my inbox and it
always prompts me to check my supplies before deleting it. If I didn't get that e-mail
from them, I would have probably bought the next round from whoever came up in a search!
Your newsletter may be product offerings and specials mixed in with useful product
reviews, or it may be a recap of what's going on in your industry. If you aren't a writer,
find articles available for reprint in your industry. Make sure the newsletter has some
value to the reader. Archive the newsletter on your site for additional content and make
the archives available for browsing.
Most webhosts have some sort of mailing list capability, or you can compose and mail
your newsletter in Outlook. There are many third-party mailing services that are idea if
you plan for a large list- check out Constant Contact.
A forum is an incredible tool for building content and a community. It's not a task to
be undertaken lightly; it requires a lot of time and energy and some technical knowledge
(or a tech budget!)
If your industry has a need, or your product has a loyal following, a forum is a great
tool to build content while drawing like-minded individuals together. A forum is great for
market research, technical support, building a fan base, trading ideas and knowledge, and
many, many other benefits.
Forums work best when you start off with a core group of people willing to post- no one
wants to talk to an empty room! Try to get people from similar business or industry
experts to post at your forum. It's exposure for them and helps to build a solid
foundation for your information.
If you decide to start a forum, be sure to use one that is search-friendly, such as
InvisionBoard or phpbb, and set aside a good chunk of time to promote it and administer
Feedback & Reviews
Unsolicited feedback is a powerful convincing tool! Let your customers tell other
customers why they love you. It's much more compelling than your own claims, if handled
There are many ways to handle feedback- the easiest way is to simply set up a form to
allow customers to submit their feedback. You can then publish the ones you choose (with
There are many scripts and other software solutions that will allow people to review
your products or service online. This can be risky if you aren't willing to take the good
with the bad! Used well, it's a powerful selling tool.
Often people can be enticed to write a review or testimonial for your site in return
for a link back to their site. This helps them with link popularity but it helps your site
as well it shows a real person wrote that review.
Weblogs or Blogs (again)
Several blog programs come with a "comment" ability built in. This allows
general users to create an account and post their comments to your blog. This is something
to be careful of as you can get negative comments along with the positive.
Ask The Expert
This is a great idea that I've seen recently. Using forum software, users submit
questions and someone at the company answers them. The Q&A are both published on the
site for users to read once they are answered in a "knowledge database". This is
less time-intensive than a full-blown forum but a great way to keep a finger on the pulse
of what customers want to know while still adding content on a regular basis.
I've often heard the argument, "My site doesn't need to be informational, I just
sell things." That may be true! There are plenty of sites that are lean and mean and
built to sell; they usually rely on things like PPC advertising and offline promotions for
traffic. That's a viable business model and it works well.
But if you are interested in building loyalty and interest in your company as well as
repeat business and you want to get increased traffic from the "editorial" or
free listings in the search engines, you have to offer more to your users. If you create a
plan for content that offers value and interest to your customers, you can have a site
that is built to sell AND drive repeat business.
About the Author
Scottie Claiborne is the owner of Right Click
Web Consulting and the facilitator of the Successful
Sites Newsletter. She is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences and the
High Rankings Seminars as well as the Administrator of the High Rankings Forum and a
moderator at the Cre8asite Forums. .
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